Seeing your child in intensive care is a scary prospect, it’s not called ‘intensive’ for nothing! The machines are the first thing that you notice, but you know that every wire and machine is there for a very good reason so they become less daunting after a while. I almost got used to them, even the alarming beeping noises, which sound dramatic but are actually just notifying the nurses of something like needing a fluid top-up.
Due to Abi’s critical condition, we were in a large, private intensive care room, assigned especially for children. She’d had the operation on the back of her skull, but we could hardly tell other than the fact that her head was rested on a soft cushion to release the pressure and protect the wound area. Despite the operations she’d just been through and all the wires and the ventilator, she looked just the same, only unconscious. She still looked beautiful.
We kissed her cheeks and forehead, and talked a lot to her, telling her that she could have anything she wanted if she would only wake up for us. As I held her hand, I could still see the traces of red nail polish on her nails which she’d worn on the Tuesday night at a school show – a stark reminder that only 48 hours ago she was dancing on stage.
She was cared for by two nurses constantly, as well as the surgeon who came in occasionally. They didn’t just watch over her, they had to work constantly to make sure all her fluids were topped up, her temperature and blood pressure was recorded and keep all the machines working as they should. I likened it to spinning plates – they were always moving from one machine or recording to the next, rarely stopping to sit down. Despite the intensity of their job, they were all extremely calm and softly spoken, very caring and respectful, talking to Abi and telling her each time they needed to do something.
I recall going through so many emotions at her bedside… trying not to sob too loudly just in case she could hear me, recounting to her all the memories we had of her that made us smile. I’m not sure if she heard any of it, but I like to think that maybe in some way it went in.
I stroked her arms and held her hand all the time. Just to feel the warmth of her skin was a comfort. It was so hard to imagine from looking at her lovely face that, within, she was not the same – her lively spirit trapped by her brain. Seeing her in that state brought home to me how the human body is simply a ‘container’ for the spirit. Even though she was not physically able to tell us in any way, I knew Abi was there with us in that room, in mind and in spirit.
We were to remain in Frenchay for another night, before we were moved to Bristol Children’s Hospital, so were allocated a fair-sized parents’ room which had single bed and shared kitchen. These rooms were invaluable to us as it meant we could change and shower, and rest in privacy. These are Ronald McDonald House charity rooms, a scheme set up by the company for parents looking after children in hospital, a very worthy cause.
Over these 24 hours, lots of our close family arrived and were able to support us and, crucially, they were all able to see Abi at her bedside, including her siblings. Seeing her was entirely their choice, and although it was a difficult decision for us and challenging for them, it helped them to understand what had happened to her and to see how ill she was, something we all appreciate now.
We knew in our hearts what the outcome would be, though we always had a hope that she might start to respond. Very early the next morning, Friday, we went for a walk to get some fresh air and we found ourselves heading for the chapel. It was empty but we went in and sat down. It felt comforting to be there and we wept and held each other. I said a quiet prayer for her and we lit a candle before leaving.
When we went back to the ward, they were preparing Abi for another CT scan. This scan would tell them if there had been any improvement at all… any brain activity, the staff didn’t need to tell us the significance of this…